They haven’t been out of the wardrobe for many months, hardly at all since the pandemic began. They could do with a dry-clean and moths may have settled among the folds. Some had become old friends, reliably comfortable. Now many look hangdog, inanimate reprimands to their owner’s neglectful treatment of them. Of course, I am speaking of my suits, the stalwarts of the working wardrobe.
Before lockdowns and Zoom conferencing, suits were holding their own as the favoured office apparel for men. The tie was on the endangered list, but the cuff-linked shirt still sat neatly under the woollen jacket of a well-made suit. The belted trousers (braces were for City slickers only) settled on the ankle as prescribed, a slight rumple above solid leather shoes. Tailored suits had been making a comeback notwithstanding the price; but most of us still purchased the ready-to-wear versions made popular in our fathers’ day by Montague Burton the “tailor of taste” once seen on every High Street. But when we are finally back to “normal” will suits still be part of our revived normality?
Suits began life as the answer to a fashion problem. Until the early nineteenth century men’s apparel was distinctly fussy and inconveniently ornamental. Who really enjoyed wearing tailcoats, silk stockings and knee breeches all topped off by a powdered wig? The dapper Beau Brummell had a solution and he paraded it; the two-piece suit (if initially with tails) was born. Though it would evolve over the next hundred years or so, the worsted woollen suits the actors in Peaky Blinders wear, were well-established by the early twentieth century. The suit had become a civvy’s uniform. It would get more colour and sometimes stripes and certainly would be better pressed, with creases and pleats as the norm. It resisted attempts by fashionistas to remodel it. Jacket lapels went broad and then back to narrow, trousers widened and then narrowed again, but the suit remained fundamentally the same. The suit is the great fashion survivor for men.